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Gov: NM now has 10 cases of COVID-19

Workforce Solutions Sec. Bill McCamley, left, and Education Sec. Ryan Stewart, move a graph close to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during a news conference about the state’s plan to deal with CONVID-19. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that New Mexico now has 10 cases of COVID-19.

Four new cases, announced during a news conference about the state’s decision to close K-12 public schools for three weeks, join the six that had already been reported as of Thursday evening.

The governor warned that New Mexico will see more cases.

The newest cases include three people who had household contact with someone who has already tested positive, the first cases to be transmitted within the state. The other was travel related.

Dr. Chad Smelser of the state Department of Health said this transmission isn’t being considered community spread.

“We use that term when there are cases that we cannot explain their exposure. So, in all of our cases, all of our presumptive positive cases in the state of New Mexico they all have an explanation currently,” Smelser said.

He said that when there are cases in which exposure is unclear, that’s when the  issue of community spread comes up.

Three of the new cases are residents in Bernalillo County, including a man in his 50s and woman in her 70s who are isolated in their homes and a man in his 80s, who is hospitalized. All had close household contact with someone who previously tested positive.

The other new case is a Santa Fe County woman in her 20s who had recently traveled to New York and is now isolated at home.

“The New Mexico Department of Health has active investigations into each of the presumptive positive patients, which includes contact-tracing and swabs of symptomatic individuals who have had contact with the positive cases,” the state said in a news release.

Two people have been hospitalized following positive tests. They were in stable condition as of yesterday, according to Smelser of the state Department of Health. One is in intensive care, he added.

Smelser said there has been contact between schools and residents who tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. While he didn’t have details, he said the state is taking precautions and working with those schools.

New Mexico Human Services Secretary David Scrase said during Friday’s news conference that school closures in previous disease outbreaks have lowered infection rates but that the measure will only be effective if families take social distancing seriously.

Statewide public school closures go into effect Monday. As of now, students are scheduled to return to school April 6.

The abrupt decision to shutter schools took some school districts by surprise. State Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said Friday that schools had been raising concerns to the state about not having enough staff and that kids who were staying home would simply fall behind if schools remained in session.

He said the state is not requiring the schools to make up the days and will waive the statutorily required number of school days this year. It is also pushing back the state testing window.

School employees will be paid as normal, he said.

Those who are essential to school-based health centers or food services are still expected to work as the state intends to continue those resources for students. Other school employees are on call, the governor said.

Stewart noted that the three-week closure really amounts to two weeks for many schools, since the period encompasses spring break in many communities.

The state is encouraging districts who have online learning resources to make those available on a voluntary basis.

Lujan Grisham said the state hopes to be able to provide meals to kids as early as Monday – the first day of the closure – but that the state is still working on logistics. The intent is to offer the meals at the school sites but there are potential alternatives such as deliveries from first responders, she said.

The state also expects to release more information about child care today.

Officials on Friday also addressed economic issues.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said the state will be waiving job search requirements for unemployment beneficiaries. Some employees who have their hours cut could also qualify for partial jobless benefits.

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